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Jul 6 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 3, 2010

If I speak with tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 

INTRO: I was thinking about Christian fundamentalism a few days ago 

  • It occurred to me that the pioneers got it wrong
    The fundamentals they emphasized were beliefs (doctrines)
     – but those are not what is fundamental to the Christian life
     – the earliest Christians did not even have Bibles – and there are many Christians today that do not have Bibles
  • Jesus was absolutely clear on the fundamentals:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:37-39) 

I think we all agree that love for God and for others are at the heart of all that God desires from us
So, let me ask you:
During the week, when and how does God make you more loving?
At what point and during what activity does God
 – reveal to you the stuff hidden in your heart that interferes with your love for others?
 – change your perspective regarding others?
We learn about our lack of love in lots of ways during the normal course of a day, but when do we take time to work on these things?
 – when do we stop and allow God to transform us? 

I want to spend four weeks in 1 Corinthians 13 to see if we can make progress in this love God that wants to work into us 


Corinth boasted a lively church
I would rather work with a motivated group that needs to be reined in than with a jaded, apathetic group that needs defibrillation

But there were problems – and the first one appears early on

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you . . . . I hear that divisions exist among you . . . (1 Co. 1:10; 11:18)

People were separating into different splinter groups
We can see that ego, pride, and doctrine were obvious factors in those factions
Specific problems arose in instances of

  1. People who thought they were smarter than other believers
    a. Paul cuts that one off right away (chs. 2 & 3)
    b. Again in 8:1 – knowledge is an insufficient standard to use in determining Christian behavior
  2. People who thought they had greater spiritual depth than other believers
    a. those who had special “gifts” and those who saw themselves as God’s mouthpiece

In his letter, Paul systematically addressed these issues (notice phrases like, “Now concerning”  in 7:1 & 8:1)

Chapter 13 provides a central solution to every problem that was splitting the church

  • From love they would learn lessons like:
     – how to go from disunity to a harmonized “body”
     – how to accommodate themselves to another person’s convictions
  • Love would enable them to repair relationships and heal their church 

Verses 1-3, The Crucial Factor In Christian Experience 

  • Verse 1, note Paul’s use of a superlative example – “angels”
    Some people think that speaking in tongues is “super spiritual”
    Paul takes that thought to its furthest limit—stretch your imagination, “angelic language”
    Apart from love, you’re just making noise
  • Verse 2, note Paul’s use of hyperbole – “all . . . all . . . all”
    Some people feel personally empowered by their gift of prophecy (or better than others)
     – “I have a word for you”
     – prophecies are regularly delivered without love
    Again, Paul says stretch your imagination, even to a wonder-working faith
    Apart from love I am nothing
  • Verse 3, extreme examples of generosity and self-sacrifice
    And once again, stretch your imagination
    Apart from love it profits me nothing – I don’t derive any benefit from this kind of generosity 

If love is removed from these activities, they are empty
 – there is nothing of God left in them
 – and the person engaged in them is empty too 

Paul is frustrated with these active and dedicated Xians

. . . in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse . . . . What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you (11:17, 22)

He is telling them, “If you miss this, even if you have everything else, you’ve missed the essence”
– you can have all the theology, the spiritual gifts, the freedom or the rules
– but without love, it’s just an empty bubble

Testing our religious and church experience 

Does my religion inspire and create love in me?

  • The vision that I have of what it means to be a Christian
     – including specific activities like prayer, Bible study, worship, conversations with other believers
    Does this vision increase my love and my ability to love?
  • Do I feel that love for neighbor is something forced on me?
    – or what about love for enemy?
    – do I feel that I have to force myself to love others? 

The reason contemporary Christianity looks the way it does is because

  • It is easier to argue with people than to love them
  • Anger, pride, and running from others comes to us more easily than patience, understanding, kindness
    Anger, etc. is also more suited to our sarchotic nature

In our careers, we are not expected (or paid) to love clients or customers or to do things out of love or with love
We’re expected to be efficient, punctual, productive, and obedient
Sadly, we have brought that with us into our church experience

If we set aside a time to grow in love, what can we do? 

I believe that contemplation and prayer can help us greatly in this regard
God searches our hearts in contemplative prayer (Psalm 139)

Thoughts on which we can meditate:

  • “God is love ” – read and ponder 1 John 4:7-21
    – It makes a huge difference if we know that God is loving
    – That he is generous with his mercy and healing
  • God’s love is not less active in our suffering
    – you are not left to the smallness of your faith or your physical strength
    – you are held in the grip of a strong love – stronger than anything in heaven or on earth
          read and ponder Romans 8:31-39
  • Jesus was pure love (Mk. 6:34)
    He had no other motive or consideration greater than love
     – so his weariness did not weaken his love
     – his suffering did not diminish his love
     – and the failure of humans—even his disciples—did not cancel out his love
  • Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me?” (Jn. 21:15)
    – not, “Do you know the critical themes of soteriology?”
    – or, “Do you work miracles” 

Love generates a special kind of energy
Love produces a special kind of attitude (“I know he’s a rascal, but I love him”)

St. Chrysostom, “love changes the nature of things”

 – what previously seemed hard and unpleasant becomes a joy

CONC: The Practice of the Presence of God
Brother Lawrence was troubled, like the rest of us, that when he tried to pray, his mind would wander
He came on the idea that everything he did—every chore, no matter how trivial—he would do out of love for God
As a result, he became aware of God at all times 
Love brought him to a more constant awareness of God, a greater attentiveness to God, and a greater sensitivity to God’s abiding presence in even the most mundane objects and activities
If we sit with Jesus in silence, he will show us what it means to love, where we’re coming short, what needs to be changed or healed, and he will pour into us his Spirit of love

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who through all Thy labor and suffering for humankind has revealed the perfection of Thy love and illuminated the world with its glory; Grant us so truly to perceive, and so faithfully to follow, the guiding of its holy light, that we may attain to the fulfillment of the very purpose of Thy love within ourselves; Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen
Rev. Jesse Brett

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